MILAN - Trying to match Jose Mourinho's
charisma and last season's treble was always going to be tough
for new Inter Milan boss Rafael Benitez, but a derby defeat and
a raft of injuries have made the task even more daunting.
The Spaniard was never going to outdo the now Real Madrid
coach in terms of quips, despite recent attempts with talk of
priests, mountains of sugar and milk, but his tactical acumen
was meant to be equal to if not better than the Portuguese.
However, Benitez was found wanting in Sunday's 1-0 defeat by
Serie A leaders AC Milan, which left fifth-placed Inter six
points adrift of their rivals after 12 games.
His decision to hand 37-year-old Marco Materazzi his first
league appearance of the season backfired when the reserve
defender upended former Inter striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic after
five minutes and the Swede dispatched the penalty.
The new 4-3-2-1 formation also failed to work, with Inter
barely having a shot, and injuries to Diego Milito and Materazzi - who went to hospital for checks after being kicked by
Ibrahimovic - are limiting Benitez's options.
"Marco is not a debutant, he is an experienced player but we
have problems in defence. Without Walter Samuel (out for the
season), we needed a player to mark Ibra," Benitez told
reporters after his first Milan derby.
"Marco made one mistake and then did his job. Today we did
not play well. Last season this team won lots of games in the
end because Milito scored lots of goals while now he has
The coach, who left Liverpool in the close season after a
woeful last campaign, made a rod for his own back in his
pre-match news conference by saying the derby would be a crucial
game, putting extra pressure on his faltering players.
AC Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani also did not help
by joking that a Milan win would almost certainly seal their
first scudetto since 2004.
Benitez would not have wanted to catch a glimpse of Inter
president Massimo Moratti's face in the stands at full-time but
the club owner is also under pressure from his side's fans for
not bringing in new players and deciding to stick with the team
which won a fifth straight league title last May.
The best teams have normally invested even when at the very
top and Benitez's continued call for buys in January will almost
certainly be heeded now.
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